The Naayakas and Nayikaas of our Mahaakaavyas are Vaak-characters, that is, either they have special connection with Vaak, or they represent Vaak, or they manifest Vaak through their action. (For the discussion how Draupadi is Vaak, see - Draupadi, the Brhati Shyaamaa, the Lost Sarasvati)
In this article, I will discuss Sita as a Vaak character.
First, a proper courtesy to the article title.
I have borrowed the phrase “valour of tongue” from Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act-1; Scene-5).
Sita’s Valour of Tongue is usually undermined. We are usually accustomed with Draupadi's Valour of Tongue, and we have no problem in imagining her as the cause and instigator of Kurukshetra War; however, when it comes to Sita, our brain is perhaps culturally blocked to see in her what Valmiki makes it too obvious.
Sita and Draupadi's Valour of Tongue are of two different dimensions, and this is one reason why Sita’s Valour of Tongue mostly remains undetected.
Before we discuss Sita, I think it would be better to have some idea on Lady Macbeth. No, I am not keen on drawing here any parallel between Lady Macbeth and Sita or Draupadi; however, since their being wife to the Naayaka and therefore, role as wife is a common factor, why not some idea on Lady Macbeth if nothing but for the sake of keeping things alive?
Lady Macbeth, the heroine, thinks that her husband Macbeth has all the qualities to be great King; however, he is “too full o' the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way”, that is, he is too soft to take the shortcut to success. It is ironical or rather an Existential Reality in marriage that a man’s quality of heart would appear weakness to the most intimate person of his life – the Wife.
So, what or how is Lady Macbeth’s Valour of Tongue?
Here is what she says:
“Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
And chastise with the valor of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crown'd withal.”
In other words, Lady Macbeth thinks that her husband, the mighty general, is not ‘man’ enough – (the implied target of attack has to be her absent mother-in-law who is the chief architect of this failure to make a man of Macbeth) – and so she takes upon her the sacred duty to “chastise” Macbeth with her Valour of Tongue.
‘Chastisement’, let us remember, is the usual translation of Danda, and VaagDanda is indeed one important form of Danda.
From the Text “Macbeth”, we know how Lady Macbeth uses this valour – to goad Macbeth down the path of her dream – incidental to which is Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan followed by a stream of murders resulting in Macbeth’s transformation from “Bellona’s bridegroom” to a “dead butcher”!
I would not go to the extent of calling Lady Macbeth the “Fourth Witch” that many critics say; the other three witches are rather adorable dolls in comparison to her – they only busy in vain boastings and in a sub-culture of Him Tim Chat.
Lady Macbeth’s resemblance with Sita ends then and there within that extent of use of Vaak (Speech, Words, and Language) to make the husband do what she wants. It is only to this extent that I will extend the phrase Valour of Tongue to Sita because, as I said, this is a less discussed side of Sita’s character.
Some self-professed Hindus and Hinduism-Raakhne-Oaalaas seek comfort in a Silent Sita, an image of a rather “domesticated wife” after their own desire of a similar doormat wife, which is no different from silencing Sita, nay, silencing Valmiki, and yes, amounting to Out-Valmiki-ing Valmiki.
With this short lamentation of introduction that includes some justification of the title (Valour of Tongue), I will now read some particular episodes in Sita’s life from Valmiki’s Ramayana. Here is the first part.
In the present discussion, I will follow the Ramayana narrative as in http://www.valmikiramayan.net
I will be using Desiraju Hanumanto Rao’s English translation, and sometimes my own; and for the transcription, I will be using Muneo Tokunaga/John Smith (gretil). The Shloka numbers will not match always; however, I am retaining the numbers as they are so that readers may follow both the original translation and transcription. In cases, where Muneo Tokunaga/John Smith’s version edits out the recension narratives, I will follow Desiraju Hanumanto Rao because the scholarly fascination for Critical Edition that edits out recensions, does not make sense to me.
Once during their Forest Exile in Dandakaaranya, Rama, Lakshman and Sita cross ways with a Raakshasa named Viraadha. He is “a lurid voiced man-eater who is akin to a mountain-peak” (girishrngaabham purushaadam mahaasvanam) and he is “Deep eyed, huge mouthed, horrible with a monstrous belly, hideously misshapen, and a very soaring one that demon is, an ugly one with a horrendous look. [3-2-5]
gabhiiraaksham mahaavaktram vikatam vishamodaram /
biibhatsam vishamam diirgham vikrtam ghoradarshanam //
As soon as Viraadha sees them, he grabs Sita in no time in his arms and moves far away from Rama and Lakshman - angenaadaaya vaidehiim apakramya (3.2.10a).
So, before Ravana abducts Sita, we have an earlier abduction here – and this time before the very eyes and nose of Rama and Lakshman.
Viraadha seems to be a gentleman man-eater Raakshasa, because he justifies his action with some moralistic preaching:
"You two wear jute cloths like hermits, but handle arrows, bows and swords like warriors, yet entered Dandaka forest with your wife... your lives are on the wane... [3-2-10c] How saintly are you while living with your wife? You sinful fellows dishonest are you ways... who are you... you insulters of sainthood? [12a]
yuvaam jataaciiradharau sabhaaryau kshiinajiivitau / 10c
pravishtau dandakaaranyam sharacaapaasidhaarinau /
katham taapasayor vaam ca vaasah pramadayaa saha // 11
adharmacaarinau paapau kau yuvaam muniduushakau / 3.2.12a
Late Desiraju Hanumanto Rao, whose translation I am using in this article, adds the following commentary:
“This demon Viradha could not comprehend their identity prima facie. By their physique and carrying the bows and arrows, knives etc., they look like warriors. By their dress, hairdo, pendants etc., they look like sages. He has so far not seen a warring sage, like Bhargava Rama or Parashu Rama. These two men dressed like sages but look like warriors and are moving in the deadly forests with a wife. vi raadha , means without, love, a loveless one, and in another context it means that vi = verily, raadha adoring Krishna like Raadha. He is said to adore Goddess Lakshmi before he is cursed to become a demon, and finding that goddess in Seetha, he lifts her into his arms, like a baby. This demon while admonishing Rama and Lakshmana for flaunting the sainthood, for they are moving with weapons and a wife, he narrates about himself in next verses.”
It is evident that Viraadha thinks Sita to be Rama and Lakshman’s common wife, and makes that an excusable justification for abducting Sita. We are very much reminded of Karna here – who justifies his action of calling Draupadi a Beshyaa and proposing Draupadi-Disrobing because she is Sadhaaranii – the common wife of Paandavas.
The contemporary relevance is bound to ring. It is often a rapist’s favourite plea to blame the character of the victim.
Anyway, Viraadha’a moral tone adds some new dimension to or rather jolts our nurtured notion of Raakshasa archetype.
Viraadha, unlike Karna, has some good proposals too. He says:
"This best waisted woman will be my wife, and I will drink your blood of you two sinful one in a fight with you... [3-2-13b-14a]
iyam naarii varaarohaa mama bharyaa bhavishyati /
yuvayoh paapayosh caaham paasyaami rudhiram mrdhe // 13e
This is yet another interesting Raakshasa psychology as also interesting psychology of Ancient Indian abductors. They abduct not with mere desire of rape, but desire of fulfilling lust in a marriage tie.
We see the same thing in Jayadratha’s case when he abducts Draupadi; we see the same in Kichaka when he desires Draupadi, and we see the same thing in Ravana too! The Ancient Indian abductors deserve some special study.
Sita’s abduction by Raakshasa Viraadha also reminds us of Draupadi's abduction by Raakshasa Jataasura who has been living with Pandavas in a Braahmin’s guise.
Coming back to the episode in discussion …Desiraju Hanumanto Rao’s commentary is enlightening:
“Here Viradha said that Seetha would become his bhaaryaa which would translate into a 'wife' in routine manner. It is said that Viradha is a devotee of Goddess Lakshmi and it is not congruous for a devotee to say like that. Here, aascharya ramayana, another version of Ramayana, defines bhaarya as: bhaa luminous one; aryaaH adorable. Hence his word should mean, "this luminary is my adorable one." Further he handles Seetha like a baby, as in 3-2-16, she is said to be viraadha anka gata , gone into the arm-fold of Viradha as babies would. The peevish ones like Viradha or Ravana grab her very quickly for she is Goddess Lakshmi, the presiding deity of wealth.”
Hearing Viraadha’s words, Sita is panicked - sambhraantaa janakaatmajaa (14c). She is anxious and frightened, and wiggles like a plantain tree in a whirlwind (sita praavepatodvegaat pravaate kadalii yathaa, 14e).
Rama’s face turns full pale (mukhena parishushyataa, 15c). He is troubled for multiple reasons. If one is Sita’s harassment, then the other heart-renting one is to see Sita in Viraadha’s arms – “…one who is brought up comfortably in immense comfort, and my auspiciously traditional wife... now gone into the wretched hands of a demon... [3-2-17-18a]
mama bhaaryaam shubhaacaaraam viraadhaanke praveshitaam /
atyanta sukhasamvrddhaam raajaputriim yashasviniim // 16e
Rama is very “touchy” about Sita, and his lamentation betrays his immense possessiveness:
"To me, oh, Soumitri, the grief of others touching Seetha is more, than father's demise or grabbing away my kingdom... [3-2-21]
parasparshaat tu vaidehyaa na duhkhataram asti me /
pitur vinaashaat saumitre svaraajyaharanaat tathaa // 19c
Let us read the utterance again.
Indeed it throws light on an un-explored side of Rama’s character. And I would take this opportunity to say here – (though I will not discuss here for want of relevance) – that Rama and Sita’s relation in the whole of Ramayana (including Rama’s doubt about Sita and the Uttarakhanda narrative of Sita’s banishment) pivots around such powerful feelings of mutual possessiveness.
Rama’s grief that Sita has been touched by Viraadha reveals his inner recess as he remembers Kaikeyi at this time –
"That which is desired to befall on us, and that which is the choicest desire of Kaikeyi, and that which is concomitant to her boons, oh, Lakshmana, that has come to pass quickly ... [3-2-18b-19a] She who is a foresighted lady, she who is not happy with the kingdom for her son, she by whom I, a dear one to all beings, am sent to forests, and she is my middle mother, her desire is fulfilled today, nay now itself... [3-2-19b-20]
yad abhipretam asmaasu priyam vara vrtam ca yat /
kaikeyyaas tu susamvrttam kshipram adyaiva lakshman // 17
yaa na tushyati raajyena putraarthe diirghadarshinii /
yayaaham sarvabhuutaanaam hitah prasthaapito vanam /
adyedaaniim sakaamaa saa yaa maataa mama madhyamaa // 18
This is interesting that despite the fact that Rama has already pardoned Kaikeyi, the present crisis brings out his true feelings for Kaikeyi – that he is yet to overcome.
Valmiki, the Kavi extraordinaire, knows and shows how words do not always match the mind, and at times, the mind even does not know the mind.
Seeing Rama in that helpless state, Lakshman hisses like an angry snake. He consoles Rama and promises to kill Viraadha; however, what he says reveals his inner recess too. He blames Bharata:
“Indeed, that which anger was there to me on Bharata when he desired kingdom, that anger I will now release on Viradha, as Indra released his Thunderbolt on the mountain... [3-2-25]
raajyakaame mama krodho bharate yo babhuuva ha /
tam viraadhe vimokshyaami vajrii vajram ivaacale // 23
This is quite a revelation on Lakshman.
Now there is some exchange of dialogue between Viraadha and Rama, and after mutual introduction, Viraadha says:
"On my undertaking ascesis I derived a boon from the beneficence of Brahma, by which I will neither be cut, nor slit, nor killed with a weapon in this world...[3-3-6] Leave off this lady without any yearning for her, and you expeditiously flee-away as you have come, then your lives will not be snatched away... [3-3-7]”
tapasaa caapi me praaptaa brahmano hi prasaadajaa /
shastrenaavadhyataa loke 'cchedyaabhedyatvam eva ca // 6
utsrjya pramadaam enaam anapekshau yathaagatam /
tvaramaanau paalayethaam na vaam jiivitam aadade // 7
This is yet another interesting phenomenon of the Ancient Indian wife-abductors. They are always protected either by Brahmaa or Shiva’s boons. We are reminded of Jayadratha - he would get Shiva’s boon post-Draupadi-abduction – that is, Shiva has no problem granting boon to the abductor; and of course, we are reminded of Ravana again.
Now the fight begins.
Rama darts very sharp arrows. Viraadha places down Sita, and rushes towards Rama and Lakshman. As Viraadha yawns and stretches his limbs, all the arrows that stuck him spills out from his body. Rama and Lakshman batter Viraadha with their swords; however, not with much impact.
Firmly beaten by Rama and Lakshman, Viraadha now does an unexpected stunt. He grabs Rama and Lakshman and wishes to carry them away [3-3-21].
We are reminded how Jataasura carries off Draupadi, Yudhishthira, Sahadeva and Nakula together. Finally Sahadeva manages to slip, and Bhima comes timely to kill Jataasura in a duel. (Arjuna is in Svarga at this time to learn Gaandharva-Vidyaa and for Astra-Shikshaa)
This is indeed an interesting picture that Viraadha has the power to carry off both Rama and Lakshman.
Rama and Lakshman cannot free themselves, but Rama thinks of an advantage in that adversity. He tells Lakshman:
“Let him easily carry us anywhere on his way... [3-3-22] Let this demon carry us as he wishes, and Saumitri, by which way this night-walker goes, that alone will be our way... [3-3-23] But he that night-walker arrogant as he is by his might has uplifted Rama and Lakshmana like babies by that might and courage alone, and placed them on his shoulders as one would place babies. [3-3-24]”
Desiraju Hanumanto Rao comments:
“Rama does not want to travel comfortably on the shoulders of the demon, but wants to examine what the demon wanted to do next, after carrying afar. The prince in Rama will not let the demon go rampant. Besides, the divine fury allows any sinister to tread his own way towards his own grave.”
Here I do not agree entirely with Desiraju Hanumanto Rao. If Rama wants to travel willingly on Viraadha’s shoulder, what about Sita? Would Sita then be running after them? Surely Rama and Lakshman could not be forgetful about Sita because she is now on her foot in that dense dangerous forest:
“That nightwalker Viradha on placing those two Raghava-s on his shoulders gone towards deeper forest yelling very luridly. [3-3-25] That demon entered into a baffling forest that is like a very dark cloud in its sheen, where a variety of massive trees are contained in, numerous flocks of vulturine birds are overspreading, and where wild jackals and other predaceous animals are sprawling around, along with Rama and Lakshmana. [3-3-26]”
Thus, this particular commentary of Desiraju-ji seems to me an apologia for Rama.
It is better to accept that at this particular moment, Rama and Lakshman are helpless and powerless before the Raakshasa. Let us remember that Kavis of Valmiki and Vyaasa’s stature never portray their Naayakas as omnipotent; and they do not hide their weakness and moments of weakness. It is the Bhakta’s Bhakti that thinks and feels in terms of Absolute and Perfect.
Now is the moment that is the occasion of this article of mine. Now is the moment we see Sita’s Valour of Tongue – entirely different in flavour than the one we find in Lady Macbeth, and unparallel in its subtlety. Now is the point of departure from all associative memory of Shakespeare’s Macbeth that the phrase Valour of Tongue brings in, as we get to understand the Power of Vaak, and why Sita is a Vaak-character.
Let us follow the narrative in Desiraju Hanumanto Rao’s translation and transcription.
“On seeing those two very dexterous scions of Kakutstha, and the best ones from Raghu dynasty, namely Rama and Lakshmana, grabbed and being carried off, Seetha screamed in a high-pitched voice.[3-4-1]”
hriyamaaNau tu kaakutsthau dRiSTwaa siitaa raghuuttamau |
uccaiH swareNa chukrosha pragRihya su mahaabhujau || 3-4-1
"He that truth-abiding, virtuous, and the flawless Rama of Dasharatha is carried off along with Lakshmana by the demon with a ferocious look... [3-4-2]”
eSa daasharathii ramaH satyavaan shiilavaan shuchiH |
rakshasaa raudra ruupeNa hriyate saha lakshmaNaH || 3-4-2
"Wild bears, tigers and panthers aspire to eat me away... oh, best demon, thieve me instead and release Kakutstha-s... Hail to thee..." [Said Seetha.] [3-4-3]
maam Rikaa bhaksha iSyanti shaarduula dviipinaH tathaa |
maam haraH utsRijya kaakutsthau namaste raakshasottamaH || 3-4-3
Sita not only addresses Viraadha as “best of Raakshasas”- raakshasottamaH, but also tells him to abduct her with even a Namaskara.
No sooner Sita says so, than we see a swift and radical turn of event.
“On hearing Vaidehi's that utterance those valorous ones Rama and Lakshmana speedily busied themselves in eliminating that evil-minded demon Viradha. [3-4-4] Soumitri indeed severed the left arm of that ferocious one, while Rama rent the right arm of that demon. [3-4-5] When his arms are mutilated that demon similar to a dark-cloud is frustrated, fainted, and fell onto ground, like the mountain demolished by the Thunderbolt of Indra. [3-4-6] They battered that demon with their fists, hands and feet, and even by heaving and hurling him again and again they entirely pounded on him on the ground. [3-4-7]”
That Viraadha does not die even after that (owing to Brahmaa’s boon), that Rama and Lakshman bury him in the ground, that Viraadha reveals that he had been cursed by Kubera and he is actually Gandharva Tumburu, that Viraadha apologizes … are all that follows, and there are several significant dimensions too in this narrative.
Let us have a quick reading of some pointers to those significances before coming back to Sita’s Valour of Tongue:
1) Viraadha says he had been cursed by Kubera (Vaishvarana) because he was once addicted to Rambha and forgot service to Kubera – and we know Ravana was cursed by Nalakuubara because of raping Rambha. In other words, Rambha has some indirect role in both abductions of Sita – by Viraadha and Ravana.
2) Rambha is sometimes regarded as a form of Lakshmii, and as an Apsaraa she is the most beautiful woman of Indra's Svarga – and we know, Sita is also Shrii-Lakshmi.
3) Before dying, Viraadha says: “Oh, Sire, at one and half yojana-s of distance from here Sage Sharabhanga, a great saint of virtue, and an efficacious sage with sun-like resplendence dwells, you shall quickly approach him for he advises you opportunely... [3-4-20-21].” Thus Viraadha has a purpose in Ramayana narrative because he points out Rama’s next destination in the forest.
4) Tumburu is no ordinary Gandharva. He has distinct mention in Puranik narratives, in Mahabharata, and other versions of Ramayana. He is son of sage Kashyapa and his wife Pradhaa. He is often described as the best among Gandharvas or celestial musicians. Besides Narada and Gopa, he is regarded the king of songs. Bhaagavat Purana considers Naarada to be the teacher of Tumburu, and he accompanied Naarada in Yudhishthira’s Sabhaa. Adbhuta Ramayana mentions that Tumburu was the best of all singers and was rewarded by god Vishnu.
The significance of Sita’s abduction by Viraadha-Tumburu merits a full discussion; and I will do that in a separate article.
Now, back to Sita’s Valour of Tongue – and my explanation why I say so …
As we have seen, Rama and Lakshman are initially powerless to Viraadha, however, as soon as Sita addresses Viraadha as “best of Raakshasas” and proposes him to abduct her, Rama and Lakshman immediately gain in spirit and severe both arms of Viraadha.
Why does Sita say so? Does she really mean what she says? Does she really think Viraadha to be “best of Raakshasas”?
I suggest, it is Sita’s Valour of Tongue that enables Rama and Lakshman to gain over the Raakshasa, and she being a Vaak-character knows how to use her Tongue effectively.
Earlier we have seen how Rama is “touchy” and possessive about Sita ("To me, oh, Soumitri, the grief of others touching Seetha is more, than father's demise or grabbing away my kingdom... [3-2-21]”). She, being the Evolutionary Woman knows this, and would not hesitate to use the Power of that knowledge.
While Lady Macbeth’s knowledge of her husband’s ‘weakness’ leads her to further his weakness and bring his doom, Sita’s knowledge of her husband’s ‘weakness’ leads her to further his strength.
Sita, the Evolutionary Woman, knows the Power of Sexual Jealousy, and how it fires up a man’s prowess when it should be in place but is missing.
Sita does that with her Tongue.
Apparently, Sita’s proposal to Viraadha is a statement of frustration at her husband’s plight born out of love for Rama; and it may be interpreted as her willingness to sacrifice her self in exchange of her husband’s life.
However, I would not go with that interpretation because it would amount to accepting that Sita is willing to sacrifice her chastity. Surely that does not go with Sita’s character.
Therefore, I suggest, what Sita says is actually an instance of her true Valour of Tongue.
We know, Goddess Vaak has Multiple Layers of Meaning – 4 layers in the vision of RgVedic Rshis. We know, woman has Multiple-Layers of Feminine Sexuality – 4 layers again in the vision of RgVedic Rshis.
And the Evolutionary Woman is aware of the Multiple-Layers and knows their pragmatic value too. Nature has equipped the Evolutionary Woman with this knowledge as a means to her Survival Strategy and also for Evolutionary Selection.
Sita has already done the part of Evolutionary Selection in selecting Rama. Now what remains is her Survival Strategy – and her Valour of Tongue comes to that aid.
Sita, the Evolutionary Woman knows her Self and also the Power of Vaak. She towers over all other woman, thus. Her proposal to Viraadha is in fact a suggestion to be “touched” by Viraadha again amounting to loss of her chastity to Viraadha. It plays on Rama and Lakshman’s mind subtly and powerfully, and instigates them to overcome stupor, and instantly lashes them to vehement action.
Sita thus assumes the role of Rama’s Shakti in all its true sense.
And we shall see that Sita’s Valour of Tongue is not monochrome. It assumes different hues and tones with different persons, in different situations, and even with Rama and Lakshman too… and with Ravana too.
If Rama and Lakshman fight with Raakshasas and Ravana with the Valour of their Kshatriya-arms, Sita fights with the wisdom of her Evolutionary Self and Valour of Tongue.
Ramayana is all about this simultaneous and parallel fight. Rama wins over Ravana with his Kshatriya-prowess after Sita has already won over Ravana with her successful Survival Strategy of using her Valour of Tongue.
Rambha or no Rambha, Ravana could not have raped Sita because he has already lost the Evolutionary Game to the greatest Evolutionary Woman.
(To be continued …)
 tasyaaH tat vachanam shrutvaa vaidehyaaH raama lakshmaNau |
vegam prachakratur viirau vadhe tasya duraatmanaH || 3-4-4
tasya raudrasya soumitriH savyam baahum babhanja ha |
raamaH tu dakshiNam baahum tarasaa tasya rakshasaH || 3-4-5
saH bhagna bahuH sa.mvignaH papaata aashu vimuurChitaH |
dharaNyaam megha sa.mkaasho vajra bhinna iva achalaH || 3-4-6
muSTibhir baahubhir padbhiH suudayantau tu raakshasam |
udyamyodyamya cha api enam sthaNDile niSpipeSatuH || 3-4-7